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|TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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This trade caught many casual observers by surprise, if only because there’s no “P” in front of Upton’s name on a lineup card. With Aaron Sanchez possibly ticketed for the bullpen and some current relievers looking shaky, many expected (and still expect) the Blue Jays to look at arms first and worry about the rest later. The offense seemed like the least of their worries. In the outfield, Toronto has Michael Saunders in left, Kevin Pillar in center, Jose Bautista in right, and capable filler-in Ezequiel Carrera off the bench. In fact, Upton’s numbers (tAV of .273) are only barely better than Carrera’s (.262) and the Jays didn’t have to give up anything for Carrera. However, a closer look at the state of the Jays' outfield reveals some very good reasons to pick up Upton.
Thanks to recent (or not-so-recent injuries), both Saunders and Bautista are dealing with nagging soreness and need regular days off or turns at DH. When combined with Justin Smoak’s poor play at first base, Toronto's fourth outfielder sees far more time in the field than a typical AL backup. With Carrera’s numbers sliding precipitously over the last month, adding someone who can cover all three outfield spots and hit a little provides a clear upgrade. Melvin Upton does that.
In addition to his defensive versatility and power, Upton provides two other services that the Blue Jays were sorely lacking. He's an incredibly gifted baserunner (2.9 BRR this year) and is crushing lefties to the tune of .287/.337/.576. Prior to the move, Ezequiel Carrera and Justin Smoak were playing regardless of the pitcher. Now, Upton will move into the lineup against lefties, and the team can actually mix and match to optimize the lineups on days off . They are also more able to make multiple late-game pinch-running or defensive substitutions. These aren’t big things, but anything that increases Toronto’s odds of winning is a bonus right now.
However, the biggest advantage the Jays get from adding Upton is that he's also under control through 2017. It’s no secret that Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are impending free agents, but they’re not alone; Saunders is also ticketed for the open market coming off an All-Star season. As a result, the Jays were potentially looking at a very depleted outfield in 2017. Picking up a capable starter in Upton gives Toronto some cover should they have trouble re-signing any of the big bats.
All of that being said, Upton is still only a marginal upgrade on Carrera at this point. But the acquisition cost was so low (San Diego is picking up all but $5 million of the approximately $22 million left on Upton’s contract) that a team in contention now has to make this kind of move. Rodriguez is years away, and the money is negligible. Sometimes, a slightly better present needs to win out over a potentially great distant future. This is one of them. —Joshua Howsam
After a pair of dismal years in Atlanta, Upton has revitalized his career in San Diego over the past two seasons, hitting .257/.313/.435 with 21 home runs and 29 stolen bases in 602 plate appearances. The artist formerly known as B.J. is still striking out in more than a quarter (28 percent) of his plate appearances, which is a legitimate concern (especially for his batting average), but the return of the soon-to-be 32-year-old’s power (16 home runs already this year) and speed combination has immense fantasy value. Given the sharp decline in stolen bases league-wide, Upton, whose 20 steals rank seventh in baseball this season, has performed like a top-20 outfielder in 2016.
The adjustment to the American League may not be as steep for Upton given that he spent the first eight seasons of his career in Tampa Bay, but he hasn’t played regularly against the AL East since 2012. Transitioning from San Diego to Toronto, a much better home park for right-handed power, is an obvious boost to his fantasy stock. However, he’s unlikely to lead off for the Blue Jays (like he did occasionally for the Padres) and will likely be relegated to the bottom half of the order. It may create more opportunities for him to run, but it also puts a dent in his run-scoring potential. Barring an unforeseen blockbuster, Upton is likely to be one of the biggest names from a fantasy perspective to cross over to the junior circuit within the next few days and warrants a considerable investment. If you’ve been stockpiling FAAB in an AL-only league and have yet to make a major move, now is the time. –George Bissell
|SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired RHP Hansel Rodriguez from Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for OF-R Melvin Upton. [7/26]
In Rodriguez, the Padres add their third high-upside arm through trade this month. It isn't like Anderson Espinoza or Chris Paddack don't come with some risk given their ages and proximity to the big leagues, but the newest addition Rodriguez certainly is the most raw of the three. The 19-year-old is 6-foot-2 with the powerful hips and core of a hard thrower. He was signed for $330,000, and the arm strength that made him a higher-dollar sign still remains. He'll sit 93-95 mph on his fastball even late into starts, while scraping 97-98 on his best bolts. The ball comes out very loosely and easily, which gives the fastball a lively second gear that can blow by hitters given his velocity.
His electric arm speed and plus fastball are Rodriguez' calling cards, though his secondary consistency and control remain works in progress. He can flash a sharp slider with good mid-80s velocity at best, though it can back up on him frequently as well. There isn't a ton of effort in his delivery, but he has a crossfire stride to the plate and lacks a natural feel to fill the strike zone. Young, crude power arms like Rodriguez can turn out a lot of ways. He was pitching his third summer in a row for Bluefield before this trade, and should be filed in the "raw, low-minors, risky with live arm" category. —Adam McInturff
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